Managing the Triple Bottom Line

Management of the triple bottom line can be challenging for even the best leaders. The triple bottom line references the three component areas of people, planet, and profit, or social, environmental, and economic (Elkington, 1997). This is a tension every leader must manage; how to protect the environment while investing in people while making a profit. A focus on any one of the three areas would a simplistic, and detrimental, perspective for a leader to take. The 2005 World Assembly (United Nations, 2005) described that balancing the environment, social equity, and economic demands would be the key to sustainable achievement. A leader must find a way to value all three resources in a  way that minimizes decision conflict and the devaluation of any one of the three.

In the area of individual growth for employees, or followers, the focus must be on giving enough space for growth while not compromising the bottom line or the environmental responsibilities of the organization. This includes space for growth and extending grace for mistakes. Many leadership styles such as transformational, servant, and authentic call for focus on intentional development and growth of followers (Northouse, 2013), but they do not encourage leaders to sacrifice the good of the organization for the development of individual followers. As a Christian leader in particular, one should follow Jesus’ example and know when to allow someone to succeed in another organization, as he did when he invited Judas to carry out what he planned to do (Jn. 13:27). Leaders must know when to invest, when to discipline, and when to set free in order to maintain the necessary balance of the triple bottom line. Mistakes can be covered when contained in the process of growth, but patterns of disobedience and incompetence must be dealt with definitively.


Benyamin M. Lichtenstein. (1997). Grace, magic and miracles. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 10(5), 393–411.

Elkington, J. (1999). Cannibals with Forks: Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Oxford: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

John P. Wilson. (2015). The triple bottom line. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 43(4/5), 432–447.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Refworld | 2005 World Summit Outcome : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2015, from

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